Archive for August, 2015

OpenStack is redefining the business model for data solutions

Want proof? Industry leading vendors are snatching up OpenStack-based companies

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

IT is headed toward being something more akin to a utility service, transformed by OpenStack’s open standardized cloud architecture, which will improve interoperability and render vendor lock-in a thing of the past.

Initially a solution adopted by smaller ISVs lacking the capital to build private clouds, OpenStack-based cloud solutions are shaping up to be the logical choice for large enterprise as industry leaders, including IBM, Cisco, EMC, HP and Oracle, bet on its value for defining the next-generation model for business computing.

These industry giants have been snatching up OpenStack-based companies over the past couple years, building up their capabilities around the architecture. IBM and Cisco are some of the latest to close deals, with their respective acquisitions of Blue Box and Piston Cloud Computing. Other relevant acquisitions include EMC’s purchase of Cloudscaling, Oracle’s Nimbula acquistion, and Cisco’s MetaCloud acquisition.

OpenStack’s value for business lies in its capacity for facilitating seamless private-to-public scalability and extensive workload portability, while removing the need to lay out capital to acquire and maintain depreciating commodity hardware.

These companies see that innovations in open clouds will inevitably win out as the premiere solution for business data management. The days of commodity hardware and internally managed datacenters are rapidly fading. With cloud services available on a pay-as-you-go basis and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) removing the need to invest in commodity hardware, customers will look at performance, pricing and quality of service as the most important factors in choosing a cloud provider, while maintaining the freedom to easily switch if a better option comes along.

OpenStack’s core strength is interoperability, allowing for seamless scaling across private and public environments, as well as easier transition and connectivity across vendors and networks.

Companies like IBM and Cisco buying up OpenStack-based providers to bolster their own hybrid cloud solutions does not mean the architecture will lose touch with its open-source roots. Open standards and interoperability go hand-in-hand and are at the heart of OpenStack’s unique capabilities.

What we are seeing is the maturation of OpenStack, with major names in business computing positioned to mainstream its adoption by leveraging their financial, IP, R&D resources and brand trust to meet complex demands and ensure confidence from large enterprise organizations transitioning to the cloud.

Cisco listed OpenStack’s capabilities for enhancing automation, availability and scale for hybrid clouds as playing a major role in its new Intercloud Network, while HP is utilizing OpenStack to facilitate its vendor-neutral Helion Network, which will pool the services of Helion partners to offer global workload portability for customers of vendors within their network.

Adoption of OpenStack by these providers signals a major shift for the industry, moving away from dependence on hardware sales and heavy contractual service agreements to a scalable IaaS utilities model, where customers pay for what they need when they need it and expect it to just work. Providers may need to shoulder the burden of maintaining datacenters but will reap the reward of pulling the maximum value from their commodity investments.

Interoperability may seem like a double-edged sword for companies that were built on their own software running exclusively on their own hardware. But the tide is shifting and they realize that closed platforms are losing relevance, while open architecture offers new opportunities to expand their business segments, better serve customers, and thrive with a broader customer base.

Cisco recently added new functionalities for its Intercloud offering, extending virtual machine on-boarding to support Amazon Virtual Private Cloud and extending its zone-based firewall services to include Microsoft Azure. Last year, IBM partnered with software and cloud competitor Microsoft, each offering their respective enterprise software across both Microsoft Azure and the IBM Cloud to help reduce costs and spur development across their platforms for their customers. OpenStack furthers these capabilities across the quickly expanding list of providers adapting the cloud architecture, enabling a vendor-agnostic market for software solutions.

Open standardized cloud architecture is the future of business IT, and OpenStack currently stands as the best and only true solution to make it happen. Its development was spurred by demand from small ISVs who will continue to require its capabilities and promote its development, regardless of whether large enterprise service providers are on board.

However, its inevitable development and obvious potential for enterprise application is forcing the hand of IT heavyweights to conform. Regardless if they’d prefer to maintain the status quo for their customers, the progress we’ve seen won’t be undone and the path toward vendor neutrality has been set.

 

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Microsoft fires back at Google with Bing contextual search on Android

“Snapshots on Tap” echoes a feature coming with the next version of Android

Microsoft has pre-empted a new feature Google plans to include in the next version of Android with an update released Thursday for the Bing Search app that lets users get information about what they’re looking at by pressing and holding their device’s home button.

Called Bing Snapshots, the feature is incredibly similar to the Now on Tap functionality Google announced for Android Marshmallow at its I/O developer conference earlier this year. Bing will look over a user’s screen when they call up a Snapshot and then provide them with relevant information along with links they can use to take action like finding hotels at a travel destination.

For example, someone watching a movie trailer can press and hold on their device’s home button and pull up a Bing Snapshot that will give them easy access to reviews of the film in question, along with a link that lets them buy tickets through Fandango.

Google Now On Tap, which is slated for release with Android Marshmallow later this year, will offer similar features with a user interface that would appear to take up less screen real estate right off the bat, at least in the early incarnations Google showed off at I/O.

The new functionality highlights one of the major differences between Android and iOS: Microsoft can replace system functionality originally controlled by Google Now and use that to push its own search engine and virtual assistant. Microsoft is currently beta testing a version of its virtual assistant Cortana on Android for release later this year as well.

A Cortana app is also in the cards for iOS, but Apple almost certainly won’t allow a virtual assistant to take over capabilities from Cortana, especially since Google Now remains quarantined inside the Google app on that mobile platform.

All of this comes as those three companies remained locked in a tight battle to out-innovate one another in the virtual assistant market as a means of controlling how users pull up information across their computers and mobile devices. For Microsoft and Google, there’s an additional incentive behind the improvements: driving users to their respective assistants has the potential to boost use of the connected search engines.


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Google pushes back Project Ara testing to 2016

The company plans to test the device in the U.S.

Google is delaying initial testing for its modular smartphone, known as Project Ara, to 2016.

The company plans to test the device in the U.S., according to several tweets posted Monday by the Project Ara team. Neither the exact location nor precise timing of the tests was given.

The Project Ara smartphone is designed to let users easily swap out its components.

The idea is that users purchase the hardware modules, like processors and sensors, themselves and snap them together to create a customized smartphone. In so doing, users could improve their device on their own terms, rather than buying a new phone outright.

Google had planned to commence initial testing in Puerto Rico this year, though those plans were scrapped as part of a “recalculation,” announced last week.

The hastag #Yeswearelate was affixed to one of the tweets on Monday.

Google did not immediately respond to comment further.

 


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Dropbox security chief defends security and privacy in the cloud

Patrick Heim is the (relatively) new head of Trust & Security at Dropbox. Formerly Chief Trust Officer at Salesforce, he has served as CISO at Kaiser Permanente and McKesson Corporation. Heim has worked more than 20 years in the information security field. Heim discusses security and privacy in the arena of consumerized cloud-based tools like those that employees select for business use.

What security and privacy concerns do you still hear from those doing due diligence prior to placing their trust in the cloud?
A lot of them are just trying to figure out what to do with the cloud in general. Companies right now have really three choices, especially with respect to the consumer cloud (i.e., cloud tools like Dropbox). One of them is to kind of ignore it, which is always a horrible strategy because when they look at it, they see that their users are adopting it en masse. Strategy two is to build IT walls up higher and pretend it’s not happening. Strategy three is adoption, which is to identify what people like to use and convert it from the uncontrolled mass of consumerized applications into something security feels comfortable with, something that is compliant with the company’s rules with a degree of manageability and cost control.

Are there one or two security concerns you can name? Because if the cloud was always entirely safe in and of itself, the enterprise wouldn’t have these concerns.

If you look at the track record of cloud computing, it’s significantly better from a security perspective than the track record of keeping stuff on premise. The big challenge organizations have, when you look at some of these breaches, is they’re not able to scale up to secure the really complicated in-house infrastructures they have.

We’re [as a cloud company] able to attract some of the best and brightest talent in the world around security because we’re able to get folks that quite frankly want to solve really big problems on a massive scale. Some of these opportunities aren’t available if they’re not in a cloud company.

How do you suggest that enterprises take that third approach, which is to adopt consumerized cloud applications?
The first step is through discovery. Understand how employees use cloud computing. There are a number of tools and vendors that help with that process. With that, IT has to be willing to rethink their role. Employees should really be the scouts for innovation. They’re at the forefront of adopting new apps and cloud technology. The role of IT will shift to custodian or curator of those technologies. IT will provide integration services to make sure that there is a reasonable architecture for piecing these technologies together to add value and to provide security and governance to make sure those kinds of cloud services align with the overall risk objectives of the organization.

“If you look at the track record of cloud computing, it’s significantly better from a security perspective than the track record of keeping stuff on premise.”

Patrick Heim, Head of Trust & Security, Dropbox

How can the enterprise use the cloud to boost security and minimize company overhead?
If you think about boosting security, there is this competition for talent and the lack of resources for the enterprise to do it in-house. If you look at the net risk concept, where you evaluate your security and risk posture prior to and after you invest in the cloud, and you understand what changes, one of those changes is: what do I not have to manage anymore? If you look at the complexity of the tech stack, there are security accountabilities, and the enterprise shifts the vast majority of security accountabilities on the infrastructure side to the cloud computing provider; that leaves your existing resources free to perform more value-added functions.

What are the security concerns in cloud collaboration scenarios?
When I think about collaboration especially outside of the boundaries of an individual organization, there is always the question of how do you maintain reasonable control over that information once it’s in the hands of somebody else? There is that underlying tension that the recipient of that shared information may not continue to protect it.

In response to that, there is ERM, which provides a document-level control that’s cryptographically enforced. We’re looking at ways of minimizing the usability tradeoff that can come with adding in some of these kinds of security advancements. We’re working with some vendors in this space to identify what do we have to do from an interface and API perspective to integrate this so that the impact on the end user for adopting some of these advanced encryption capabilities is absolutely minimized, meaning that when you encrypt a document using some of these technologies that you can still, for example, preview it and search for it.

How do enterprises need to power their security solutions in the current IT landscape?
When they look at security solutions, I think more and more they have to think beyond the old model of the network parameter. When they send data to the cloud, they have to adopt a security strategy that also involves cloud security, where the cloud actually provides the security as one of its functions.

There are a number of cloud-access security brokers, and the smart ones aren’t necessarily sitting on the network and monitoring, but the smart ones are interacting, using access and APIs, and looking at the data people are placing into cloud environments, analyzing them for policy violations, and providing for archiving and backup and similar capabilities.

Security tools that companies need to focus on could be oriented to how these capabilities are going to scale across multiple cloud vendors as well as how do I get away from inserting it into our network directly and focus more on API integration with multiple cloud vendors?


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Virtual Mobile Infrastructure: Secure the data and apps, in lieu of the device

VMI offers an effective, efficient way to provide access to sensitive mobile apps and data without compromising security or user experience

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

Corporate use of smartphones and tablets, both enterprise- and employee-owned (BYOD), has introduced significant risk and legal challenges for many organizations.

Other mobile security solutions such as MDM (mobile device management) and MAM (mobile app management) have attempted to address this problem by either locking down or creating “workspaces” on users’ personal devices. For BYOD, this approach has failed to adequately secure enterprise data, and created liability issues in terms of ownership of the device – since it is now BOTH a personal and enterprise (corporate)-owned device.

MAM “wrap” solutions in particular require app modification in exchange for ‘paper thin’ security. You cannot secure an app running on a potentially hostile (unmanaged) operating system platform, and critically you can’t wrap commercial mobile applications.

By contrast, Virtual Mobile Infrastructure (VMI) offers an effective, efficient way to provide access to sensitive mobile apps and data without compromising enterprise security or user experience.

Like VDI for desktops, VMI offers a secure approach to mobility without heavy-handed management policies that impact user experience and functionality.

From IT’s perspective, VMI is a mobile-first platform that provides remote access to an Android virtual mobile device running on a secure server in a private, public or hybrid cloud. The operating system, the data, and the applications all reside on a back-end server — not on the local device.

From a user’s perspective, VMI is simply another app on their iOS, Android or Windows device that provides the same natural, undiluted mobile experience, with all the accustomed bells and whistles. Written as native applications, these client apps can be downloaded from the commercial app stores, or installed on devices using MAM or app wrapping technologies.

As Ovum states, “Put more simply, this [VMI] means in effect that your mobile device is acting only as a very thin client interface with all the functionality and data being streamed to it from a virtual phone running in the cloud.”

Getting started with VMI

After downloading and installing the VMI client, users go through an easy setup process, inputting server names, port numbers, account names and access credentials. When users connect to the VMI device they see a list of available applications, all running on a secure server that communicates with the client through encrypted protocols.

The client accesses apps as if they were running on a local device, yet because they are hosted in a data center, no data is ever stored on the device. Enterprises can secure and manage the entire stack from a central location, neutralizing many of the risks that mobile devices often introduce to a network.

Two-factor authentication is supported via PKI certificates in the physical phone’s key store. The physical device forces the user to have a PIN number (or biometric) to unlock the phone when there is a certificate in the hardware-backed key store. Additionally, the client supports variable session lengths with authentication tokens.

The server infrastructure that supports VMI clients can be implemented as multiple server clusters across geographic regions. As users travel, the client synchronizes with the server cluster closest to its physical location to access the applications on its virtual mobile device. The client continues to communicate with one server at a time, choosing the server location that provides the best performance.

In a typical deployment, there are compute nodes that host the virtual mobile devices, a storage service that holds user settings and data, and controller nodes that orchestrate the system.

The controller node(s) can be connected to an Enterprise Directory service, such as Active Directory, for user authentication and provisioning, and systems management tools such as Nagios and Monit can be used to monitor all parts of the system to ensure they are up and behaving properly (e.g. are not overloaded). The server hosting the devices creates detailed audit logs, which can be imported into a third party auditing tool such as Splunk or ArcSight.

VMI is platform-neutral, which means organizations can write, test, run and enhance a single instance of an app on a ‘gold disk’ OS image, rather than building separate apps for each supported end-user platform. This represents significant time and cost savings for resource-constrained IT organizations.

And while VMI takes a different approach to securing mobile endpoints than MDM, it does not aim to replace those solutions. Instead, VMI can integrate with MDM, MAM and other container solutions allowing organizations to use MDM to configure and manage an enterprise-owned virtual mobile device running in a data center, and MAM to support version management and control upgrade scheduling of VMI thin clients.

Mobile by design
Because VMI is optimized for smartphones and tablets with small touch screens and many sensors, users enjoy native apps and a full mobile experience. VMI supports unmodified commercial apps, allowing for greater workflow and productivity, and complements sandbox container solutions that provide limited offline access to apps such as corporate email by providing a richer user experience when the user is online (the vast majority of the time).

Users can also access separate work and personal environments from a single device, enjoying Facebook and Instagram and sending personal emails without worrying that corporate IT teams will seize data or wipe their data. When an employee leaves an organization, IT simply revokes their access privileges to the virtual mobile device.

Similar to VDI, there are many different business scenarios in which organizations should evaluate VMI. The most common include:

Healthcare – Enables access to electronic health records and other sensitive apps and data from mobile devices, in compliance with HIPAA privacy requirements.
Financial Services – Facilitates access to more sensitive client transaction data and business processes, from both personally owned and enterprise owned devices.
Retail – Supports secure Point of Sale as a Service for credit card transactions; Protecting the confidentiality of customer data accessed both from on and off premises.
Enterprise BYOD – Provides secure access to native apps from employee-owned mobile devices; keeping all data secure in the data center while at the same time not infringing on personal privacy.

Commercial Services – Extends the mobile enterprise to contractors, partners and customers.
Classified mobility – Allows government and security services to access data and applications from classified mobile devices, ensuring compliance with the thin client requirements of NSA’s
Mobility Capability Package.

With 1.9 billion devices expected to hit the market by 2018, IT professionals are on the hunt for a more effective way to secure the enterprise. VMI provides the access they need without compromising security or user experience.


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So long (Vista), it’s been good to know yah

Windows 8’s predecessor in Microsoft’s every-other-OS-flops series now has a user share of just 2%

Windows Vista, the perception-plagued operating system Microsoft debuted to the general public in early 2007, has sunk to near insignificance, powering just two out of every 100 Windows personal computers, new data shows.

According to analytics provider Net Applications, Windows Vista’s user share, an estimate based on counting unique visitors to tens of thousands of websites, stood at 2% at the end of July.

Vista has been in decline since October 2009, when it peaked at 20% of all in-use Windows editions. Not coincidentally, that month also saw the launch of Vista’s replacement — and Microsoft’s savior — Windows 7. Within a year, Vista’s user share had slumped to less than 15%, and in less than two years fell below 10%.

Since then, however, Vista users have dragged their feet: The OS took another four years to leak another eight percentage points of user share. Projections based on the current average monthly decline over the past year signal that Vista won’t drop under the 1% mark until April 2016.

Vista’s problems have been well chronicled. It was two-and-a-half years late, for one. Then there were the device driver issues and ballyhoo over User Account Control (UAC). It was even the focus of an unsuccessful class-action lawsuit that alleged Microsoft duped consumers into buying “Vista Capable”-labeled PCs, a case that revealed embarrassing admissions by senior executives who had trouble figuring it out.

Even former CEO Steve Ballmer admitted it was a blunder. In a pseudo-exit interview in 2013 with long-time Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, Ballmer cited Vista as “the thing I regret most,” tacitly setting most of Microsoft’s then-problems on the OS’s doorstep, from its failure in mobile to the slump in PC shipments.

Those still running Vista — using Microsoft’s claim that 1.5 billion devices run Windows, Vista’s share comes to around 30 million — have been left out in the cold by Microsoft and its Windows 10 upgrade: Vista PCs are not eligible for the free deal.

It’s actually good, at least for Microsoft, that Vista is on so few systems. The company will ship the last security updates for the aged OS on April 17, 2017, 20 months from now.

And there is a silver lining for Vista owners: At least their OS is more popular than Linux.


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Top 5 factors driving domestic IT outsourcing growth

Despite insourcing efforts, the expansion of nearshore centers is not necessarily taking work away from offshore locations. Eric Simonson of the Everest Group discusses the five main drivers responsible for the rise in domestic outsourcing, why Indian providers dominate the domestic landscape and more.

IT service providers placed significant focus on staffing up their offshore delivery centers during the previous decade. However, over the past five years, outsourcing providers have revved their U.S. domestic delivery center activity, according to recent research by outsourcing consultancy and research firm Everest Group.

The American outsourcing market currently employs around 350,000 full-time professionals and is growing between three and 20 percent a year depending on function, according to Everest Group’s research.

Yet the expansion of nearshore centers is not necessarily taking work away from offshore locations in India and elsewhere. Big insourcing efforts, like the one announced by GM, remain the exception. Companies are largely sticking with their offshore locations for existing non-voice work and considering domestic options for new tasks, according to Eric Simonson, Everest Group’s managing partner for research.

We spoke to Simonson about the five main drivers for domestic outsourcing growth, the types of IT services growing stateside, why Indian providers dominate the domestic landscape, and the how providers plan to meet the growing demand for U.S. IT services skills.

Interest in domestic IT outsourcing is on the rise, but you say that that does not indicate any dissatisfaction with the offshore outsourcing model.

Simonson: This isn’t about offshore not working and companies deciding to bring the work back. That’s happening a bit with some call center and help desk functions. But, by and large, these delivery center setups are more about bringing the wisdom of global delivery into the domestic market. The fundamental goal is industrializing the onshore model vs. fixing what’s broken offshore.

Can you talk about the five main drivers behind their increased interest in locating stateside?
Simonson: The first is diversification of buyer needs. As buyers have to support new types of services, certain types of tasks may be better delivered nearshore rather than offshore.

Secondly, there may be a desire to leverage the soft skills of onshore talent. This occurs when you need someone with a certain type of domestic business knowledge or dialect or cultural affinity.

Thirdly, domestic sourcing can be a way to overcome the structural challenges associated with offshore delivery, such as high attrition and burn out in graveyard shifts.

Fourth, companies may be seeking to manage certain externalities like regulatory requirements of fears about visa availabilities. To some extent, these reasons are often not necessarily based on true requirements, but are a convenient reason to give for choosing to outsource domestically rather than the potential risks of offshore.

Finally, there may be client-specific needs that demand domestic solutions—a local bank that wants to keep jobs in the community or a company with no experience offshore looking to start the learning curve.

Within IT services, what types of work currently dominate the domestic landscape?
Simonson: Application development is most prominent, with 123 domestic delivery centers in tier-one and -two cities serving financial services, public sector, manufacturing, retail and consumer packaged goods clients. Just behind that is IT infrastructure in similar geographies focused on those verticals as well. There are 80 consulting and systems integration centers and 68 testing centers as well.

It’s interesting to note that while U.S.-based providers tend to operate larger IT service centers domestically, it’s actually the Indian providers that dominate the landscape.
security tools 1

Simonson: Traditional U.S.-based multinationals have captured more scale in individual centers and have been able to grow them, in some ways, more strategically. They’ve been able to set up shop in smaller tier-4 cities like Ann Arbor or Des Moines and have more proven local talent models.

But the majority of domestic centers are operated by India-centric providers. Part of that is driven by their desire to get closer to their customers. With application and systems integration work, the ability to work more closely with the client is increasingly valuable. And with infrastructure work, concerns about data and systems access have encouraged Indian companies to offer more onshore options.

In addition, some of the bad press they’ve received related to visa issues is encouraging them to balance out their delivery center portfolios.

But Indian providers are not necessarily staffing up their centers with American workers.
Simonson: Indian providers are more likely to use visas to bring citizens of other countries (predominantly India) into the country to work on a temporary or permanent basis in a delivery center. About 32 percent of their domestic workforce working in delivery centers is comprised of these ‘landed resources.’ Across all providers, landed resources account for six percent of domestic service delivery employees. However, tightening visa norms and higher visa rejection rates are making it more difficult for providers to rely on foreign workers.

You found that approximately 43 percent of the delivery centers are located in the South, with almost half of those concentrated in the South Atlantic. And Texas has more than fifty. Is that
simply due to the fact that it’s cheaper to operate there?

Simonson: Cheap helps. But equally important are overall population trends. The South is growing, while regions like the Northeast or Midwest are either stable or on the decline. If you look at where people are going to school or moving and where corporations are relocating their headquarters, it’s taking place from the Carolinas down through Florida and over through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Those states are also more progressive about attracting services businesses (although there are some exceptions outside of the south like North Dakota and Missouri).

Do you expect the domestic IT outsourcing market to continue to grow?
Simonson: Yes, service providers expect an increase in demand for domestic outsourcing services by new and existing customers, and plan to increase their domestic delivery capabilities by adding more full time employees to their existing centers and establishing new delivery centers. In fact, 60 percent of delivery centers are planning to add headcount over the next three years with India-centric service providers expected to lead the expansion.

Tier-2 and tier-3 cities, like Orlando, Atlanta and Rochester, are poised for the greatest growth, with tier-1 and rural centers expecting the least amount of growth.

Will the supply of domestic IT talent keep up with this increased demand?
Simonson: The pressure to find IT talent has led service providers to adopt a range of approaches to extend their reach and develop ecosystems of talent. Many have developed educational partnerships, creating formal and informal relationships with colleges and technical institutes. They’re also basing themselves in cities known for their quality of life and recruiting entry-level and experienced talent from elsewhere. It all impacts what communities they decide to work in.

All service providers will have to expand their talent pools, particularly in IT. Automation of some tasks could increase capacity, but doesn’t provide the higher-complexity skills that are most valued onshore.


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